This is Where I Leave You – It’s funny because it’s true.
Written by: Jonathan Tropper (Screenplay and novel)
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, and Ben Schwartz
It is very easy for a director to misuse a talented cast. This is especially true when it comes to family dramedies, where a director must carefully avoid the traps of flushing out one or two characters but leaving the rest of the family in the background and losing the emotional impact of things those characters are going through.
Such is not the case for “This is Where I Leave You” director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”, “Date Night”). Levy handles his cast and story perfectly, while accomplishing the difficult task of keeping a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy. One thing I felt throughout watching this movie is that it seemed real. The family had the familiar habit of driving each other crazy to the point of violence while also having a tenderness and deep love for one another. The dialogue never seemed cookie cutter, and every time I thought the film was going to lose itself to the dark side of becoming a melodrama, Levy pulled on the reigns and brought it back to a light hearted quirky comedy. The plot line of a death in the family forcing everyone to see one another and hash out their issues is a familiar one, but it never seems stale here. The focus is shifted more onto each family member realizing that they can lean on their loved ones, and don’t have to be ashamed to ask for help or guidance.
Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman. Judd has had just about the worst year you could possibly imagine. He walked in on his wife having sex with his boss, and now he has received a phone call from his sister (Fey) telling him that their father has passed. As his dying wish he has asked that, after his passing, all of his children come home and join their mother in sitting shiva for seven days. Each of the Altman children is going through difficulties of their own. Oldest brother Paul (Stoll) and his baby obsessed wife Annie (Hahn) are having an impossibly hard time in trying to conceive their first child, Wendy (Fey) is in a loveless marriage, and Phillip (Driver) is the family screw up who just happens to also be dating his therapist (Britton). It doesn’t take long before the stresses of their lives and the death of their father forces them each, individually and as siblings, to find a path for their lives that is healthier than the one they are on.
There is an undeniable amount of talent in front of the camera, and each of them performs well. Bateman is certainly the star, and he does a very good job at carrying much of the films weight on his shoulders. I have really enjoyed watching him turn himself into one of the better actors in American film. He is at different times brutally hilarious and surprisingly gentle, and his turn as Judd is really what takes the film from good to excellent. He has plenty of help though (I especially enjoyed the understated and emotionally deep performance by Tina Fey), and the final product is a terrific ensemble performance with a refreshingly honest portrayal of a Dysfunctional American family.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes quirky off beat comedies, or movies about family. In a time where 90% of the main stream films we see are remakes of remakes and brain dead fluff films designed to pull in the white teenage demographic, “This is Where I Leave You” is like an oasis in the desert. A welcome and funny change of pace.